Like much of the nation, Whitman College students, staff, faculty and alumni are joining together this summer to dig deeply into issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
As part of that conversation, in mid-July President Kathy Murray announced Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist” as the summer 2020 common read.
“I acknowledge that racism and privilege exist in our community and our world. My commitment to being anti-racist is real and personal,” Murray said in an email announcement. “I also know that education is a critical tool in disrupting this vicious cycle.”
Kendi is one of the nation’s leading scholars on racism, and in July launched the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. “How to be an Antiracist” published in 2019 to critical acclaim.
“Kendi eloquently introduces us to the concept of being an anti-racist and the implications of adopting that practice. He demystifies misconceptions of what it means to be racist and what actions can be seen as intentionally seeking to transform institutions into anti-racist organizations,” said Kazi Joshua, dean of students and vice president of student affairs. “Mapping this work through his own journey and transformation, Kendi provides us with an opportunity to enter both into conversations and practices that have the potential of moving us closer to the aspirational community of inclusion, diversity and belonging that we aim for.”
Kendi’s book was purchased for each student, thanks to generous donations from alumni and members of the President’s Advisory Board. Multiple ebooks and audiobooks were also purchased by Penrose Library for faculty and staff. The books were mailed to students’ homes last week.
“This book shares the journey of becoming anti-racist, and we as an institution are currently on that journey. We’re understanding our history. We’re understanding ways in which we need to grow and be better,” said Thomas Witherspoon, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Whitman. “I believe that this text is pivotal in us understanding where we need to go as a college.”
Alumni are also invited to join in. Witherspoon will lead a discussion of the vital themes for alumni on Aug. 18. Alumni can learn more and register for that discussion. Witherspoon also led a discussion group on the book in spring semester.
During fall semester, the college will host events and discussions on topics and themes from the book.
Sharing Kendi’s book is just one of the college’s efforts to deepen conversations and bring awareness and positive change to issues of diversity and inclusion. Witherspoon is also leading an Inclusion Task Force, which is examining the systems and structures at Whitman through an equity and inclusion lens. The committee will present an action plan to Murray and the President’s Cabinet, with action items outlined before the beginning of fall semester.
“The Inclusion Task Force is a step in the right direction in helping us to develop action items that will move us toward becoming anti-racist as a college community,” Witherspoon said.
He hopes that students, staff and faculty from all backgrounds will engage with the book and relate it to their own personal development.
“What I’m hoping is that students will understand that while we’re on a journey as an institution, they’re on a journey as individuals, developing into the person they’ll ultimately be in this world. And this book gives us a roadmap to becoming anti-racist as we move through this journey.”